Sport 16: Autumn 1996
Alan Riach — Clearances
For Lester, Rae and James
The clouds go over
singly, or in fleets, trailing
raggedly back, against a sky
where looming vaults of rain
come over too. Then the sky lets loose:
the shades of grey become uncountable,
the rain comes down on everything, diagonal, banks:
the windows, roof, the wooden deck,
the trees around, the green slopes run
with mud, the fields below are soaked and fill;
the road becomes a grey and moving river.
The baby hasn’t heard this sound before: the heavy rain
on the iron roof, and cries himself
to sleep, at last, as the downpour
eases off. It must be time to leave.
The weather is an actual farewell.
I used to think the old Gaels of Ireland,
or the west of Scotland, knew
so little of our modern world.
It seemed they were a pastoral people
and burdened with a culture of conservatism.
But clearances are always strong in the mind,
the images recurrent, the rubble of the ruined homes,
the ghosts of children, animals, and men
and women helpless in the face of the event.
Farewells and birth, there are some things
no clues or forms of knowledge alter
in themselves. I won’t say they can’t help.
They knew about departure, those old people,
and the kinds of life we deal with here
require that inherited wisdom. Now
the heavy showers have passed, but different shades of grey
reflect, refract unnumbered tones of light.
It’s time to pack what we have and can carry.
It’s time to take what we can, and go. The boy
will not remember this, the landscape
of his parents, unless we do.